Last Friday, Minister of State for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath, launched the new National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017 – 2021 in place of the out-dated and failed National Disability Strategy of 2004 – 2015. The Strategy is a 4-year plan to provide and improve on services for people with disabilities in Ireland. Minister McGrath said the Government was putting €1.65bn into these services, and that there will be eight key areas of change: Equality and Choice, Joined up policies and public services, Education, Employment, Person-Centered Disability Services, Health and Wellbeing , Living in the Community, and finally, Transport and Accessible Places.
To start off, there is some mention the CRPD ratification in the Strategy in the Equality and Choice section but little to no mention of the CRPD featured in the other 7 areas. The first section of the Strategy features the promise of implementation of many different schemes and directives. The first section sets the Strategy off to a good start, with promises of universal public service and public sector information accessibility.
Joined up Policies and Public Services ensures public service and public sector accessibility change and support is said to be ’ongoing’, yet there is no mention of how these changes and supports are occurring, or how they’ll be improved upon in the future. Despite this, the idea of joined up policies and public services could see an improvement in the harmonisation and working of such services. This will also help in producing an annual report on the Strategy, which will help to address issues that arise with the Strategy in the future.
Currently, just 24.5% of people with a disability have completed third-level education, compared to 38.7% of the general population. The third section of the Strategy, Education, aims to increase this number, but no specific information is given as to how. To get to third-level education, students must complete second level, but, in 2010, 50% of people with a disability had less than full second-level education, compared with 22% without a disability. Explanations as to how students with disabilities will be kept in education are missing. No matter how many plans and programs are put in place to support students with disabilities, they won’t matter unless attendance is improved upon, primarily.
The Education section feeds greatly into the next – Employment. Employment is one of the key areas of the Strategy, considering the difficulty to uphold Ireland’s Equality Act due to a lack of opportunities. . The Disability Act 2005 reserves only 3% of public service jobs for those with disabilities, and the NDIS aims to increase this to 6%. Ideally, the NDIS would have increase this number further, instead of just providing awareness and traineeships to prospective employees with disabilities. People with disabilities are much more likely to be unemployed, with the rate of unemployment for this group increasing from 8% to 22% over the period 2004-2010 – hopefully this Strategy will improve that.
Health and Wellbeing, the fifth section of the Strategy covers only 2 of the 46 pages. The limited actions in this area fail to address the needs and wants of those with disabilities in relation to the care of their heath and wellbeing. This is possibly one of the most important areas of the Strategy, but the contents fail to impress, and need developing if they are to function well as a part of the Strategy.
The Person-Centered Disability Services section of the NDIS focuses on the provision of services for children and adults with disabilities. These actions will require monitoring and evaluating to provide information to develop these actions and services in the future. The provision of care and services on a person-to-person basis will be, ultimately, a huge contribution to the improvement of the lives of those with disabilities.
Living in the Community, section 7, is a vital issue of disability, and the Strategy tackles it well. A clear priority is shown to support those with disabilities to live and integrate into the community. However, there is no mention of personal assistance, a service which would be required by many when living independently within the community. Action 96 confirms that the National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011- 2016 is being extended a further 3 years to 2020, this, combined with action 97 (advising on ways of achieving universal design solutions for new housing so that new homes can be accessed and used by all persons) promises to improve the housing situation of those with disabilities.
Area 8 of the Strategy focuses on transport and the accessibility of places. Overall, there is a lack of specificity as to how the different forms of public transport, both inner-city and rural, will be improved, but the promise of improvement is provided, nonetheless. Action 101 states the implementation of a pilot scheme to lessen the advised notice time for travelling, and ensure a better response when customers requiring assistance cannot give notice for DART services in Dublin, but no similar scheme for trains outside the capital.
Of the 114 ‘actions’ presented in the Strategy, 60 are said to be ‘ongoing’ processes. The Strategy also talks about ‘continuing’ a lot of actions that are already in place. It seems evident to me that the current schemes and plans in operation are not satisfying those with disabilities in Ireland and need replacement. Perhaps the most glaring problem is that the Strategy fails to address the costs of living with a disability. The Strategy lacks new ideas, and fails to impress me, but it’s impossible to judge how well the strategy will play out at this point, and so we’ll have to wait and see.
The Strategy in full can be viewed on www.justice.ie or here: http://justice.ie/en/JELR/National_Disability_Inclusion_Strategy_2017_2021.pdf/Files/National_Disability_Inclusion_Strategy_2017_2021.pdf